A shared love of fishing starts one man's journey toward a Master of Environmental Studies
June 17, 2020
Alex McCrickard’s path to his position as the Aquatic Education Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) began on the water. “My father introduced me to fishing when I was just a child. Fishing together has been our thing since I was little,” said McCrickard. “At a young age, my father’s passion for fishing as well as conservation of our resources was contagious.”
McCrickard earned his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies: Natural Resources in 2013 from Sewanee The University of the South. He spent the summers of 2011 and 2013 as a fly fishing guide on Wyoming’s Upper North Platte River where he enjoyed sharing his passion and knowledge with new anglers. In 2013, McCrickard moved back east and landed a position as an Environmental Educator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation where he spent one year working in Pennsylvania and three years working in Virginia. Traveling around the state and educating middle school and high school students was a large part of his job, which brought him to work with VCU Fisheries Biologist David Hopler. Hopler runs the popular Go Fish! summer camp at VCU Rice Rivers Center, and McCrickard was there to provide additional education and awareness elements for the campers. McCrickard and Hopler share a love of fish ecology, and Hopler suggested McCrickard take a class at VCU. A connection made with Steve McIninch, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) graduate program at that time and who became McCrickard’s advisor, led to his decision to become a full time graduate student starting in the spring of 2018.
The master’s program at CES proved to be a good fit, and he began his studies focusing on coursework in water quality and environmental policy. In his first semester McCrickard met Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of the Rice Rivers Center, during a guest lecture in a class with Paul Bukaveckas, Ph.D., associate professor in CES. McCrickard expressed his interest in biomonitoring and joining Garman’s lab.
Working in Garman’s fish ecology lab provided McCrickard the opportunity for formal hands-on training directly in his field of interest, and also back on the water with Hopler throughout 2018 and into 2019. McCrickard worked directly with Hopler, McIninch, and Garman conducting research that assessed the impacts of clearcutting on biotic integrity in Virginia’s Piedmont streams. In the midst of his grad school studies, another conversation with Hopler set him on his most recent path. A position within the VDGIF was available, and as a mentor, Hopler strongly suggested him to apply. It was the perfect fit.
In March 2019, McCrickard began his position at VDGIF as the Aquatic Education Coordinator. His job is to conduct education in aquatic ecology and Virginia’s diverse freshwater fisheries in addition to leading the agencies’ Angler R3 (recruit, retain, reactivate) efforts across the state. His role often focuses on articulating the science and management of our fisheries through an angling lens. “VCU connected the dots, and working in Dr. Garman’s fish ecology lab gave me formal training in fisheries science,” said McCrickard. “Working in the Outreach Division at VDGIF, I am able to blend my formal training and education with my passion for fishing. We are working to build a diverse angling community with underlying values of conservation and stewardship. I am a firm believer that the more we recreate and enjoy our fisheries, the more we respect and value them. As we value our fisheries and wildlife resources, it soon becomes imperative that we must conserve them for generations to come.”
While working at VDGIF, McCrickard continued his educational journey at VCU, and graduated this spring with a Master of Environmental Studies.
Learn more about fishing opportunities in Virginia at: https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/